I am an Everygirl, and… I suffer from social anxiety.

  • Copy By: Sarah Stephens

And to answer the question that probably popped into your mind after reading that — No, I am not some introverted hermit. In fact, I am quite the contrary. Social anxiety disorder can manifest itself in a number of ways.

For years, I felt as if I was living in a world where I was looking through a different set of lenses from those around me. Let me illustrate what I saw. For example, I’d walk into a party, see girls talking in a circle, and immediately assume they were talking about ME. Most people might think, “Well, this stinks…” or “I’m not that important to be talked about,” and then move on. For me, I would lay out a strategic plan to resolve the imaginary gossip. I immediately threw on a mask and went to work. It might as well have been a masquerade ball, not a high school party.  

 

Overcompensation was my go-to for everything. In social situations, I would immediately assume others did not like me, despite the lack of evidence I had to support such an outlandish claim, and would go to extremes to counteract that assumption.

 

As humans, we like to make the uncertain, certain. If someone doesn’t say hey to you at an event, then we instantly assume we did something wrong. Whether the discomfort leads to nervous and random chatter, a human gone mute, or an attempt to bring the situation under your control to gain some ease, regardless, the result this anxiety creates is not pretty. I felt powerless to my mind — it felt as if there was someone else up there flipping the switches and calling the shots for me.

 

Overcompensation was my go-to for everything. In social situations, I would immediately assume others did not like me, despite the lack of evidence I had to support such an outlandish claim, and would go to extremes to counteract that assumption. You could say I was synonymous with the term “extra.” The process was not only exhausting for me, but also taxing on others. My anxiety was rigid, with thought processes that remained very black and white. It took years to realize that my thoughts were not reality; and even if some were, it took practice and exploration to learn how to deal and live with them.

 

I became controlling in relationships and clung to boys so that I wouldn’t have to face myself alone in the mirror.

 

 

Social anxiety takes shots at your self esteem. When you are already so unsure of liking yourself, imagine spending the first 21 years of your life clinging to and relying on external validation. You can guess how things went with this being my priority — I became controlling in relationships and clung to boys so that I wouldn’t have to face myself alone in the mirror. My brother sang Jay-Z’s  “On To The Next One” to me each time a new boyfriend would come along.

Our mind likes to automatically fill in the blanks. The majority of the time we choose from the negative side of the word bank, and make up our own truths.

We can’t control someone else’s actions, but we can control how we choose to interpret them. You can personalize things and think everything is about you or your fault versus separating yourself from the subject. To calm anxiety, practice awareness of what you can and can’t control, as well as sitting with the unknown.

There is a reason behind the thoughts we have, whether obvious or not. Treat thoughts as a cue. Our mind protects us. However, there can be a time when our thoughts err on the side of overprotection, and in return makes us overly attentive and hyper vigilant to stimuli. For example, we start taking offense to the slightest things we might perceive as a threat — it’s problematic. Your guard is up constantly, not able to let people in, and you’re on the lookout at all times.

 

We can’t control someone else’s actions, but we can control how we choose to interpret them.

 

People throw the term anxiety around so much to the point where the meaning has been misconstrued and diluted. Everyone worries, everyone experiences the feelings of angst, but what differentiates worry and anxiety are the coping mechanisms used when stress arises.

If we need to bother caring about our mental health, especially self esteem, then we’ve officially gone soft, right? Our age rolls our eyes when hearing the jaded terms that cycle around… It’s ideal to be chill. To pretend to not be attached to anything, to act un-phased.

People project the term “selfish” onto others too rashly. If anything, we need to be more selfish — in the sense of taking care of and looking out for ourselves. A healthy level of self esteem is imperative when it comes to handling anxiety — the more okay you are with yourself, the more likely you are able to combat your worries and these cognitive distortions.

 

Everyone worries, everyone experiences the feelings of angst, but what differentiates worry and anxiety are the coping mechanisms used when stress arises.

 

We need to treat mental health just as aggressively as physical health. As one TED talk discusses, the effort that goes into the healing process of a broken leg needs to be tantamount to that of aiding mental health.

You can’t expect people who don’t go through this themselves to understand what it is like for those struggling. It is so important to cultivate some sort of understanding regarding mental health so that others can know where we are coming from.

 

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